Youngsters show their green-fingered prowess in Lowestoft allotments
Young people and allotments are not often mentioned in the same sentence.
But for one patch of greenery in Lowestoft the two have become closely intertwined as young offenders plant and look after their own vegetable patches.
For the last few months groups of teenagers have become a common sight at some allotments off Fieldview Drive as they take part in a project to improve their skills and turn them against a life of crime.
The youngsters from across north Suffolk are learning about team work and nature and developing their English and maths skills as they cultivate a wide range of vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes, celery, squash and runner beans.
They are working on the allotment as part of a scheme run by the Catch 22 Suffolk Reparation Service, which sees offenders work on projects as part of their community sentences.
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And as an added bonus for the young people involved the get to eat the fruits of their labour.
The allotment project also involves Eastfeast, which encourages youngsters to work on allotments, and Lowestoft's Yard Project, which runs the allotments.
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Also involved in the reparation project are the Suffolk youth offending team and the police.
And the last few months of community garden work, including building a clay oven, is already resulting in several success stories ion helping to keep teenagers on the straight and narrow.
Some of the young people who have completed their reparation work have been so taken by gardening they have continued to work on the bountiful allotments as volunteers.
And the young allotment workers have also helped to beat the generation gap by helping out on neighbouring allotments belonging to older people.
The Journal spoke to one of the young offenders from Lowestoft, a 16-year-old who wanted be known as 'Mark', to see how he is benefiting from the gardening scheme.
Mark, who hopes to go on a college course, said: 'It keeps me out of trouble. It has made me realise that getting involved in crime is not worth it and that I should think about my future.
'I enjoy gardening and weeding on the allotments and I can chill out here with the other people involved.'
Ryan Church, 17, from Saxmundham and who hopes to be an Olympic torch bearer, is also working on the allotments as part of his community order.
He said: 'It opens you up to different things I would not have done before. I really enjoy coming here.'
The young people have also been working on and improving allotments of nearby allotment holders, including Eric Baker, 88, and Betty Barrett 70, who said: 'It is lovely to see the come here. They are doing a great job.'
Liz Woodrow, reparation manager for Catch 22 Suffolk Reparation Service, said: 'It is all about giving the people involved a fresh opportunity, develop new skills and a give them a chance to reflect on the fact that committing offences and crimes is not the way forward.'
The allotment offending project is appealing for people to donate or provide gardening equipment, including a poly tunnel and a green house.
Anyone who wants to support the scheme should call 0776 8151740 or 07717601381.